Navy, Water District Officials Swear Irvine's Drinking Water Now Safe

Irvine City Council members say they hear from residents convinced that unsafe levels of trichloroethelyne (TCE)–a volatile organic compound linked to cancer, other nasty illnesses and death–is in their drinking water. Those fears lead to media-fueled alarm, public confrontations and snarky blog posts. (God, are those annoying!) Councilman Larry Agran also suspects “plaintiff attorneys” are hovering around town “looking for the next Love Canal.”

However, based on Thursday’s presentation by Navy and Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) officials to the Orange County Great Park Corp. board, everything is a-okay with Irvine’s drinking water.

Yes, the fabled plume of TCE-laced water remains a mere 200 feet below the center of town, primarily in the Woodbridge community, thanks to contamination that spread up to three miles from the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, where the use, splashing and dumping of toxins as part of base operations kept you safe from commies.

But under heavily regulated clean-up operations the Navy is responsible for until water underground is again safe for human consumption – a process that could take up to 50 years – the plume has been contained, volatile organic compounds have been removed through treatment and once-tainted water is now being used for irrigation, according to Marc Smits of the Navy’s Base Realignment and Closure program (BRAC).


Thirty-nine extraction wells on the base and three off of it continually draw up fouled water that is pumped to treatment facilities. One concern voiced recently involves TCE vapors from the water contaminating the soil and rising to the air everyone in town breathes. Smits assured the board bad soil has been removed and vapor monitoring has detected no harmful levels of TCE reaching the atmosphere.

The groundwater everyone is concerned about is not potable, said Paul Cook of the IRWD. Drinking water is imported or drawn from other sources within the district. None of that water contains unsafe levels of TCE, he said.

After a district well within Santa Ana city limits tested slightly above legal limits for TCE recently, it was immediately shut down. An investigation revealed the source for contamination was not the base nor the Woodbridge plume but Santa Ana polluting industries that will be responsible for clean up once they are identified, Cook said.

Board members indicated they would like regular updates on the water situation.

Not addressed at all was the health of those who were exposed to the contamination when the base was fully operating.

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